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OPINION: CNMI Self-government: The need to right the ship of state

By Jose S. Dela Cruz

(Koblerville, Saipan) About two weeks ago, the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands issued, at the request of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), search warrants with respect to the Office of Governor Ralph Torres, the Torres Brothers LLC law firm, the Legend Realty real estate company, and the financial office of Imperial Pacific International (IPI) on Saipan, among others. The federal district court issued the search warrants. It apparently determined that there was probable cause that certain federal criminal laws were violated.

The FBI is presumably reviewing now the results of the searches and seizures conducted on the various premises stated in the search warrant. It would then determine whether federal criminal laws were violated. If the FBI determines that federal laws were violated by certain individuals, firms and/or companies, then it would empanel a grand jury to consider issuing criminal indictments against those individuals and firms who violated the federal criminal laws at issue.

The truly sad and shameful thing about these federal criminal investigations by the FBI into the activities and affairs of the CNMI government is that it raises, once again, the fundamental issue regarding the ability and competency of CNMI Government leaders, both elected and appointed, to govern our islands effectively. It raises once again the specter of local government corruption that lies at the heart of these FBI investigations. Such investigations are indeed shameful and embarrassing, not just for the individuals and firms being investigated, but also for the people of the Northern Mariana Islands who elected our local leaders into public office.

For over forty (40) years now, the people of the CNMI still have not learned the basic lesson of the Commonwealth as a democratic institution: that in order for CNMI local self-government to progress and succeed, we have to elect to public office only those individuals who are capable and competent, and who first and foremost have the best interests of the people of the Commonwealth. We need to elect only those individuals who have a clear plan and vision to promote the welfare and well-being of our people-- leaders who are not going “to take the people of the Commonwealth for a ride.” To date, we have neither learned nor practiced such fundamental aspect of democracy and good government.

I have been writing for many years now, urging the people of the Commonwealth to elect to public office only those individuals who are competent and capable; but the voters of the CNMI, for several decades now, apparently prefer to have as our leaders, mostly individuals whose primary interest in holding public office is to benefit themselves and their business associates and cronies. Upon holding public office, the CNMI treasury becomes their personal fund which they feel could be used as they see fit, even for personal and non-official expenses. We have seen over the past several decades many of our local government leaders, who have been indicted, convicted by the federal courts, and eventually sentenced to serve time in federal prison on the U.S. mainland. Every few years, federal corruption cases are brought against CNMI leaders. When are we going to learn our lesson? Is government corruption now a normal part of the way we practice local self-government?

Because it is we the voters of the Commonwealth, who for one reason or another, voted these individuals into public office, we are in a general sense also responsible for the corruption that takes place; and we should be embarrassed and ashamed.

It is my sincere hope that something good and positive will come out of the recent FBI investigations. It is my hope that, if in fact federal criminal laws were violated based on the searches conducted and seizures conducted by the FBI recently, the people of the Commonwealth will learn a fundamental lesson on democracy: that CNMI self-government will only be as good as the individuals we elect into public office. We should always remember that government corruption always gives a black eye to the entire Commonwealth. We must, therefore, begin to wean ourselves from the image and perception that the CNMI is a “third world country” where corruption by local leaders is the way we practice self-government.

Jose S. Dela Cruz is a resident of Koblerville, Saipan

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